Jeff Guinn is a noted Western historian who also happens to know how to write gripping, plot-driven tales of aggression and survival.
That combination serves historical fiction devotees well in Guinn’s latest book, “Buffalo Trail,” the second, stirring installment of the New York Times bestselling author’s Southwestern frontier trilogy.
Released by Putnam last month, “Buffalo Trail” tracks the travails of Cash McLendon, the same fictional, Zeliglike character featured in the trilogy’s first installment, 2014’s Glorious. After surviving a series of misadventures in the Arizona gold fields in Glorious, the endearingly flawed McLendon this time provides readers a window into the Second Battle of Adobe Walls. That history- shaping battle took place in 1874, when a combined force of Comanche, Cheyenne and Kiowa warriors attacked an encampment of buffalo hunters and storekeepers in the Texas panhandle.
Included in the band of buffalo hunters is sharpshooter Billy Dixon, who faces off with wily Chief Quanah Parker, son of a Comanche chief and a white woman captured by the tribe as a child. In addition to Dixon and Parker, several other Western figures make cameo appearances in the book, including Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, famed Kiowa warrior Satanta and Cheyenne woman warrior Mochi.
In Guinn’s telling, Mochi plays a significant part in the battle.
“Most of her story is exactly as related in ‘Buffalo Trail’,” he says.
In 1864, Mochi witnessed the slaughter of her family by state militiamen during the Sand Creek Massacre in eastern Colorado. She escaped the massacre and for the next decade participated in raiding parties and warfare, including the Adobe Walls battle.
Guinn tells the story of the battle in alternating chapters, from the point of view of Dixon and the buffalo hunters, and that of Parker and the warriors. The dual perspectives enable Guinn to portray both sides of the conflict, which proved the last major attack by free-ranging Indians against white settlers on the Great Plains.
One of the many fascinations of “Buffalo Trail” lies in Guinn’s blunt descriptions of the barbarities plains Indians and white frontiersmen practiced on one another. The Texas author depicts the atrocities by both sides with frank candor that serves to render the casual brutality endemic to the Old West at least comprehensible, if not easily digestible.
Guinn also makes clear in Buffalo Trail the base monetary interests that drove the white hunters and storekeepers south into Indian territory from Dodge City, Kan., in the summer of 1874. Having slaughtered the last of the immense northern Great Plains buffalo herds the preceding two years for tremendous profit, the hunters and storekeepers headed south—illegally and at known risk to their lives—on the trail of a final herd of buffalo in an attempt to reap more fast cash by hunting down and slaughtering the last of the surviving creatures.
Guinn already has completed “Silver City,” the third installment in his planned trilogy. Upon its release, “Silver City” will complete the three-book story arc involving McLendon and his love interest, Gabrielle Tirrito. However, Guinn reports, he has developed a frontier timeline that includes 16 additional events around the Old West at which McLendon could pop up, like a Winchester-toting Forrest Gump, should Putnam decide to continue the series.
“There are still a lot of great stories to be told,” he says.
Scott Graham is the National Outdoor Book Award-winning author of seven books, most recently “Mountain Rampage” (Torrey House Press), the second installment in the National Park Mystery Series. Visit him at scottfranklingraham.com.